|Headquarters||30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|Picture format||1080i HDTV|
(downscaled to letterboxed 480i for the SDTV feed)
|Owner||NBCUniversal Television and Streaming|
|Parent||NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group|
|Launched||September 26, 2005 (as Sprout)|
September 9, 2017 (as Universal Kids)
|Webcast||Watch live (subscribers only)|
Universal Kids is an American children's television channel owned by the NBCUniversal Television and Streaming unit of NBCUniversal.
The channel launched in 2005 as PBS Kids Sprout, a preschool-oriented channel jointly operated by PBS, Comcast, Sesame Workshop, and HIT Entertainment. After the acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast in 2011, the company began to buy out the remaining owners' shares in the network. NBCUniversal became the sole owner of the network in 2013, after which it was renamed Sprout. Under NBCUniversal ownership, the channel increased its investments into original programming.
In 2017, the network relaunched as Universal Kids, adding an evening and primetime lineup targeting a wider youth audience—including DreamWorks Animation content, non-scripted programming (including game shows, and youth spin-offs of reality series from its NBCUniversal sister networks, such as American Ninja Warrior and Top Chef), and acquired scripted series from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The channel continues to devote its daytime lineup to preschool programming.
Amid declines in viewership in comparison to Sprout, Universal Kids ended its development of new original programming in 2019, with the channel now relying primarily on acquisitions and DreamWorks content.
As of September 2018[update], the channel is available to about 56.240 million households in the United States.
On October 20, 2004, PBS announced that it had entered into a partnership with cable provider Comcast and production companies HIT Entertainment and Children's Television Workshop (CTW, now Sesame Workshop) to launch a 24-hour cable network aimed at preschool children. On April 4, 2005, Comcast announced that the network would be known as PBS Kids Sprout, launching initially as a branded video on-demand (VOD) service before launching its 24-hour channel. The network would be advertising-supported, but commercials would only air between programs in small quantities, and would be aimed towards parents and caregivers.
The PBS Kids Sprout channel officially launched on September 26, 2005, with a reach of around 16 million viewers across Comcast and Insight cable providers. The multi-platform approach was designed to appeal to different viewing habits, with the linear channel focused on variety, and the on-demand services focused on instantaneous access to specific programs. The linear service was designed around dayparted programming blocks, featuring activities and other feature segments presented by on-air hosts. Some of these segments were designed to promote supplemental content (including activities and interactive features) on Sprout's website.
Sprout chose to not follow the convention of bundling short-form series into half-hour episodes with interstitial segments for U.S. broadcast, electing to air such programs individually in their original format to increase the variety of its schedule.
A high-definition simulcast feed launched in September 2010.
Comcast acquired a 51% majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric (GE) in January 2011, and would assume full ownership of the company in 2013. As a result, Comcast's interest in Sprout was turned over to the company. When Apax Partners sold HIT Entertainment to Mattel on October 24, 2011, HIT's ownership interest in Sprout was never included in the deal and was retained by Apax Partners.
In December 2012, Sesame Workshop sold its interest in Sprout to NBCUniversal, which in turn later acquired Apax and PBS's shares in the network on March 19, 2013 and November 13, 2013 respectively, therefore giving Comcast full ownership. Its operations were then merged into its NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group subsidiary. As a result of NBCUniversal's full ownership, the network dropped the "PBS Kids" branding and was renamed Sprout, while its operations were moved from Philadelphia to NBCUniversal's facilities in New York City.
On July 7, 2012, Sprout began to produce educational programming blocks for NBC and Telemundo, branded as "NBC Kids" and "MiTelemundo" respectively. The blocks both replaced Qubo (a previous joint venture between NBCUniversal, Ion Media, Corus Entertainment, Scholastic, and Classic Media), which had been airing on NBC and Telemundo since September 2006.
Under NBCUniversal ownership, Sprout began to increase its investments in original programming to better compete with its rivals Disney Junior and Nick Jr., with a goal to double its original series output to at least 30% of its schedule by the end of 2015, and displace older and non-exclusive library content in favor of original series and acquisitions exclusive to the channel. Sprout programs such as The Chica Show also earned increased visibility airing on NBC as part of the NBC Kids block.
On September 26, 2015, Sprout underwent a brand refresh to mark the 10th anniversary of its launch, with new on-air imaging inspired by modern technology and mobile devices, a new tiny house-inspired studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for its hosted morning block The Sunny Side Up Show, as well as the premiere of Nina's World—an original animated series spun off from its evening block The Good Night Show. Actress Alyssa Milano began to make appearances in interstitial segments as Sprout's "Mom-bassador", with a particular focus on the channel's public service campaign "Kindness Counts".
The network's head Sandy Wax stated that Sprout also planned to experiment with more half-hour programs, and commission programming with more "complex stories" that can appeal better to older preschool audiences.
In August 2016, NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation. Deirdre Brennan, formerly of Corus Entertainment, was named the new president of Sprout in January 2017, replacing the outgoing Sandy Wax.
On May 1, 2017, NBCUniversal announced that it would be relaunching Sprout on September 9, 2017 as Universal Kids; the relaunched network aimed to be "an umbrella brand for [NBCUniversal's] family offerings", and would include primetime programming targeting a wider youth and pre-teen audience, while still carrying preschool programming as a block under the Sprout branding from 3 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET daily. Brennan explained that Sprout needed to "grow up with the rest of the family", and that Universal Kids would "[offer] something to 2 to 12 year olds that has a slightly different purpose—widening their eyes, opening their minds and celebrating many aspects of being a kid."
The network would launch with a slate of original non-scripted series, including Bear Grylls: Survival School and Top Chef Junior. NBCUniversal intended to make "significant" investments in original content for Universal Kids over the next three years, including original scripted programming. The launch lineup included a large number of international acquisitions, particularly from the U.K., Australia, and Canada (such as The Next Step and Nowhere Boys); Brennan acknowledged that since youth audiences had become "globally aware", the network wanted to showcase foreign series that had not yet aired in the United States. Universal Kids would also feature programing produced by the Canadian-based DHX Media for its Family Channel and its sibling television brands, as well as co-produce series with the company (such as the children's sitcom Bajillionaires); DHX had recently entered into a programming agreement with DreamWorks Animation for its networks.
DreamWorks would be leveraged by Universal Kids to bolster its programming, with linear television premieres of DreamWorks' Netflix series such as All Hail King Julien and Dragons: Riders of Berk as part of its launch lineup. Industry observers felt that the integration of DreamWorks IP with Universal Kids would help NBCUniversal establish a viable multi-platform competitor to other major children's networks. The network planned to continue investing in preschool programming for the Sprout block; Brennan stated of Sprout that "the greatest thing is, there is nothing to fix there. Sprout is a beautiful brand. If anything, we want to invest more in original production. There is more we can explore there."
Universal Kids saw a significant decrease in viewership in comparison to its previous incarnation as Sprout, with IndieWire reporting a 30% decline in 2017, followed by a 73% drop in 2018. Brennan was replaced by Frances Berwick as network president in February 2019. In April of that year, Universal Kids unveiled a new logo and branding designed by the design agency Kill 2 Birds. On June 19, it was reported that Universal Kids had ceased the development of original programming, and would rely primarily on DreamWorks content, acquisitions, and its remaining slate of original commissions. Members of its program development team were either laid off or transferred to other NBCUniversal properties. Some Universal Kids original series, such as American Ninja Warrior Junior and Where's Waldo?, moved to NBCUniversal's streaming service Peacock.
Based on numbers from Nielsen, Variety ranked Universal Kids as the 132nd most-watched broadcast or cable network in the United States in 2021.
Main article: List of programs broadcast by Universal Kids
Original programs produced for the network include the Top Chef spin-off Top Chef Junior, the game shows Beat the Clock and The Noise, Get Out of My Room, and American Ninja Warrior Junior. The channel also airs shows produced by DreamWorks Animation (some of which were originally produced for the streaming service Netflix) and has acquired and co-produced programs with international partners.
Prior to the Universal Kids launch, Sprout continued to premiere new series such as Kody Kapow, joining a slate that also included Dot, Nina's World, and DreamWorks-produced Noddy, Toyland Detective. New acquisitions such as Masha and the Bear would premiere on the Sprout block alongside the relaunch."
On August 14, 2017, Sprout replaced its long-running morning block Sunny Side Up with Sprout House (renamed Snug's House in 2018). It is presented by Carly Ciarrocchi and the new character Snug, a talking dog portrayed by puppeteer Chris Palmieri, through 90-second segments throughout the block. The program was designed to be more flexible to produce than its predecessor, with ga different "tiny house" set with additional areas and camera options. Unlike Sunny Side Up, the segments are pre-recorded instead of broadcast live; supervising producer Vinny Steves felt that the live format was too "limiting", and explained that the new format was also designed to enable the segments to be distributed on digital platforms such as social media. With the launch of Sprout House, the network began to downplay its longtime mascot, Chica, although she was featured in certain segments (such as Chica at School).
As of September 2018[update], Universal Kids is available to about 56.240 million households in the United States.
Universal Kids operates one feed nationally, and does not operate a timeshift feed for the west coast.